Poems of Giacomo Leopardi/Poem 5
TO A VICTOR IN THE GAME OF PALLONE.
The face of glory and her pleasant voice,
O fortunate youth, now recognize,
And how much nobler than effeminate sloth
Are manhood's tested energies.
Take heed, O generous champion, take heed,
If thou thy name by worthy thought or deed,
From Time's all-sweeping current couldst redeem;
Take heed, and lift thy heart to high desires!
The amphitheatre's applause, the public voice,
Now summon thee to deeds illustrious;
Exulting in thy lusty youth.
In thee, to-day, thy country dear
Beholds her heroes old again appear.
_His_ hand was ne'er with blood barbaric stained,
Who on the plain of Elis could behold
The naked athletes, and the wrestlers bold,
And feel no glow of emulous zeal within,
The laurel wreath of victory to win.
And he, who in Alpheus stream did wash
The dusty manes and foaming flanks
Of his victorious mares, _he_ best could lead
The Grecian banners and the Grecian swords
Against the flying, panic-stricken ranks
Of Medes, who, dying, Asia's shore
And great Euphrates will behold no more.
And will you call that vain, which seeks
The latent sparks of virtue to evolve,
Or animate anew to high resolve,
The drooping fervor of our weary souls?
What but a game have mortal works e'er been,
Since Phoebus first his weary wheels did urge?
And is not truth, no less than falsehood, vain?
And yet, with pleasing phantoms, fleeting shows,
Nature herself to our relief has come;
And custom, aiding nature, still must strive
These strong illusions to revive;
Or else all thirst for noble deeds is gone,
Is lost in sloth, and blind oblivion.
The time may come, perchance, when midst
The ruins of Italian palaces,
Will herds of cattle graze,
And all the seven hills the plough will feel;
Not many years will have elapsed, perchance,
E'er all the towns of Italy
Will the abode of foxes be,
And dark groves murmur 'mid the lofty walls;
Unless the Fates from our perverted minds
Remove this sad oblivion of the Past;
And heaven by grateful memories appeased,
Relenting, in the hour of our despair,
The abject nations, ripe for slaughter, spare.
But thou, O worthy youth, wouldst grieve,
Thy wretched country to survive.
Thou once through her mightst have acquired renown,
When on her brow she wore the glittering crown,
Now lost! Our fault, and Fate's! That time is o'er;
Ah, such a mother who could honor, more?
But for thyself, O lift thy thoughts on high!
What is our life? A thing to be despised:
Least wretched, when with perils so beset,
It must, perforce, its wretched self forget,
Nor heed the flight of slow-paced, worthless hours;
Or, when, to Lethe's dismal shore impelled,
It hath once more the light of day beheld.